Nisei Week Honors Community Service Organizations

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Originally printed as part of this year’s Rafu Shimpo Nisei Week supplement.

The Nisei Week Foundation is recognizing Orange Coast Optimist Club Helping Farms Feed Families, Terminal Islanders, and Tigers Youth Club with its Community Service Awards for their outstanding support of and work in the Southern California Japanese American community. The annual awards dinner will be held on Monday, Aug. 13, at the Double Tree by Hilton, 120 S. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles.

“This year the Nisei Week Foundation is very excited to honor three grassroots community organizations who have worked tirelessly to support the Nikkei global community with their vital programs,” said Rev. Mark M. Nakagawa, president of the Nisei Week Foundation. “OCO’s Helping Farms Feed Families distributes excess produce to those in need and in 2011 fundraised to support the farmers in the Tohoku region of Japan, Terminal Islanders preserves the important contributions of the Issei who helped to build the largest U.S. fishing port prior to World War II, and Tigers Youth Club develops youth and teaches important character values through the fundamentals of organized sports.”

Following are profiles of this year’s recipients of the Nisei Week Community Service Awards:

Orange Coast Optimist Club Helping Farms Feed Families

Orange Coast Optimist Club (OCO) established the OCO Helping Farms Feed Families in May 2010 to help distribute excess produce grown by small farms to local food pantries that in turn help families in need. Fresh produce provides a nutritious addition to the canned goods that are usually distributed through food pantries. In 2011, with the help of 500 community volunteers, Helping Farms Feed Families was able to glean 30,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to help feed more than 15,000 families.

Walk the Farm, cosponsored by OCO Helping Farms Feed Families and Tanaka Farms, has raised thousands of dollars for farmers in Japan. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

Inspired by the images of the March 2011 tsunami and earthquake that wiped out so much farmland along the Japan coastline, OCO and the Helping Farms Feed Families program, together with Tanaka Farms, sponsored a “Walk the Farm” event to aid farmers in Japan who were affected by this disaster. The first “Walk” was held in June 2011 and featured a 1.5- mile walk around a working farm, with fresh fruits and vegetables to sample along the way. The 1,700 walkers and 300 volunteers raised $80,000 that was distributed to farmers in Japan. The inaugural walk was deemed a success, with many positive comments bolstering the thought of reprising the event to continue supporting the farmers in Japan.

The second walk was held on June 16, 2012, and featured 16 sampling stations of fresh fruits and vegetables. This year, 2,100 walkers and more than 500 volunteers participated.  The same farmers in Japan will receive proceeds from this Walk the Farm event.

OCO Helping Farms Feed Families looks forward to expanding its collection program to include more local farms and pantries, families, and volunteers. It also intends to make the Walk the Farm an annual event in support of the courageous farmers in Japan whose dedication in the face of ongoing tenuous conditions continues to be an inspiration to the world.

Tigers Youth Club

The Tigers Youth Club is a nonprofit organization that offers youth in the Asian American community the opportunity to compete in organized sports. Its sports program promotes sportsmanship, character, self-confidence, and social and athletic skills. The club encourages the development of young adults in the community while providing scholarships to help further their education.

In 1953, a group called the “Has Beens” wanted to share their love of sports to the youth community. The Has Beens were a group of Nisei athletes who played baseball and basketball in the Japanese Athletic Union, currently known as the Nisei Athletic Union (NAU). The group’s goal was to channel the energy of youths into sports and thus help them from going astray. Not only did the Has Beens provide advice on the finer points of sports, but they also provided financial assistance. They bought uniforms and equipment and paid league and tournament fees so that these kids would have the opportunity to play a sport.

The Tigers Club began with one basketball team for boys from ages 7 to 12. They accepted anyone who wanted to play, regardless of their athletic experience or ability to pay. The club continued to grow as more baseball and basketball teams were formed. In 1982, a girls’ program was started and expanded quickly. Eventually, the Tigers added men’s and women’s teams.

In 1976, the Tigers held their first basketball tournament to raise money for scholarships for deserving high school seniors to aid in continuing their education. By 1978, the Tigers formally incorporated into a nonprofit organization in the State of California. For more than 17 years, their basketball tournaments were held in the San Fernando Valley. In 1994, this area was hit by an earthquake, so the tournament moved to the San Gabriel Valley. Proceeds from the tournament were donated to the San Fernando Valley schools damaged by the quake.

Today, the Tigers have become one of the top Asian American athletic and community organizations in Southern California with more than 50 youth and adult teams from Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties.

The Tigers Tournament is one of the largest tournaments in the U.S., with participation from more than 500 youth and adult teams held over the three day Memorial Day weekend. This weekend also includes a scholarship ceremony, golf tournament, bingo, youth dance and parent social.

Each September, the Tigers host a basketball clinic for approximately 100 children from 4 to 5 years of age to give them a taste of basketball and to teach them the fundamentals of the game. Tigers volleyball is also very popular, running clinics year-round for children ranging from age 10 through high school.

Terminal Islanders

At the turn of the century, a couple of Japanese fishermen lived on Rattlesnake Island in Los Angeles Harbor. It was later renamed Terminal Island, as we know it today. After Los Angeles Harbor was dredged to deepen it, the recovered sand was used to enlarge the island. Around this time, 15 abalone fishermen from Wakayama made a living diving for, preparing and exporting the shellfish at White’s Point, located below the bluffs of Palos Verdes.

In 1907, the city of San Pedro decided it did not want the men living at the beach and catching abalone, so an ordinance was passed to evict them from White’s Point. With nowhere to go, these men settled on Terminal Island and continued to fish. Their families worked in the island canneries.

The contributions made by these fishermen helped build the largest fishing port in the U.S. before World War II. At that time, the Japanese were the largest ethnic group fishing in Los Angeles Harbor.

As the village grew, Japanese merchants and support businesses were established. With the Depression ending and fish plentiful, it was a very happy time. But after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the fishermen who were out at sea were forbidden to enter L.A. Harbor, as submarine nets blocked the entrances to the harbor.

When their boats were finally allowed to dock, the fishermen were arrested for “suspicious activities” and sent to Terminal Island Federal Immigration Jail. Eventually, all alien Japanese (Issei) fishermen on Terminal Island were arrested and jailed. Being a self-contained village, there were no leaders, as all Issei males were in jail. On Feb. 19, 1942, Executive Order 9066 was issued. All Japanese, both aliens and citizens, had to leave the island within 48 hours. No transportation or housing was offered.

It was a horrible time for all Terminal Islanders as everyone had to sell their household goods and many prized possessions. The Terminal Islanders were removed and sent to the War Relocation Authority camps, where they remained for the duration of the war. Nearly 1,000 from Terminal Island were sent to Manzanar. Many of their sons served honorably in the U.S. military during the war.

Terminal Islanders Memorial Monument honors the legacy of the fishermen who called the island home. The former residents continue to give back to the Japanese American community. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

After the Japanese vacated Terminal Island, the Navy bulldozed almost all of the homes and buildings. When the Terminal Islanders eventually returned from camp, their homes were gone.

They had sold or abandoned most of their worldly possessions, and had to start from nothing. Additionally, the Issei who had their fishing licenses revoked during the war did not get them back and had to start new careers. As the years went on, the villagers wanted to be with their old friends again. So in 1971, they came together to form the Terminal Islanders.

Throughout the years, Terminal Islanders generously supported many organizations. Of particular note was the initial campaign effort to support the Japanese American National Museum and Keiro Retirement Home. They donated funds so that the Long Beach Japanese Community Center could purchase the land where it sits today on Seabright Ave.

In 2001, Dr. Chika Robert Ryono, who grew up in Terminal Island, proposed a Terminal Island Memorial Monument as a tribute to the Issei fishing pioneers and their families. Dr. Ryono’s nephew, Michael Enomoto, a partner with Gruen Associates, designed the monument. Minoru Tonai was its fundraising consultant. The campaign was a success that raised nearly $500,000. The State of California, with the help of former California Assemblymembers Nao Takasugi and Grace Napolitano, provided $148,000 in seed money for the project.

Terminal Island’s Japanese Fishing Village is an important segment of the Los Angeles Harbor area’s history and heritage. The homes were destroyed long ago and all but two of the buildings in the commercial area have been razed. The two remaining buildings and artifacts must be preserved and be used to tell the story of the canneries and Japanese Fishing Village that once existed.

The Terminal Islanders believe it is vital for the port to preserve these buildings and the monument as their “furusato,” or “home sweet home,” to remember the contributions and overall growth of the area. It is an important history lesson and a striking art piece for the Port of Los Angeles.

The Nisei Week Awards Dinner starts at 6 p.m., individual tickets are $70 and tables of 10 are $700. Also recognized at the dinner will be this year’s grand marshal, Rep. Adam Schiff of California’s 29th Congressional District,  and the parade marshal, Mary Kageyama Nomura, the “Songbird of Manzanar.” For tickets or information, call the Nisei Week Foundation at (213) 687-7193.

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